If chanteuse Carol Lipnik had a sideshow bannerline it would say “The queen of Coney Island phantasmagoria” (Lucid Culture) and “A Coney Island of the Ear” (New York Times) in addition to “My Life as a Singing Mermaid.” On March 17, Lipnik will appear in concert at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater with keyboardist Dred Scott. She calls her band Spookarama after the dark ride at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Her multi-octave voice and Scott’s wurlitzer do indeed make you feel as if you’ve stepped inside an old-timey spook house or are careening down the drop of a roller coaster. In this Q & A, ATZ asked Carol about her association with Coney Island.
ATZ: We were surprised to realize the lyrics of “List of Attractions,” one of the songs that you’ll be singing at Joe’s Pub, really are a list of long-vanished Coney attractions. The House Of Too Much Trouble, Wormwood’s Monkey Theater, The Cave Of Winds, The Haunted Swing, and so on. How did you come to write the song?
CL: Growing up in Coney Island during its decline I quickly understood that it was a place filled with historical ghosts. I loved wandering the boardwalk and the amusement park area, especially off-season. Staring up at the decaying rides I felt Coney Island to be a place where the presence of things that were there were more there than the things that remained there. There was something so compelling to me in this wabi-sabi dreamland decay of sadness and hysteria. I can remember how the abandoned Thunderbolt Coaster became covered with vines and full of birds, and how the Parachute Jump’s cables whipped in the wind, and still to this day the hollow constant moaning of the wind through The Astro Tower like a giant flute. In my researches I found the names of past attractions to be so enigmatic that I got the idea to string them all together as a long list which when sung would tell much of the story – you fill in the imagery!
ATZ: These are all long ago attractions, but if you could bring three of them back, which ones would you choose and why?
CL: The Haunted Swing seems really fun – I believe it was a ride where the actual swing was stationary and the room swung around! Trip To The Moon a la George Melies film world would be so fun! The Cabaret De La Mort – Zombie burlesque anyone? Disaster Illusion rides like The End Of The World and The Fall Of Pompeii (maybe with a Global Warming slant?)
ATZ: When you say “Growing up in Coney Island…” Did you live in Coney Island as a child or do you mean you came here often as a child growing up?
CL: I grew up in Coney Island on Neptune Avenue — in Trump Village. Also, by the way, my uncle had a wonderful Jewish Delicatessen on Mermaid Avenue called Rosenberg’s that was all black and white art deco and mirrors. He made his own mayonnaise for potato salads and coleslaw, his own stuffed derma, and he was very strict about serving sandwiches properly — no white bread or mayo with the pastrami! He loved it and he held out till he finally got burned out.
ATZ: Why did you name your band Spookarama?
CL: The Spook-A-Rama dark ride pretty much summoned up my experience of Coney Island and what I was trying to project with my songs — a shamanic trip through a slapstick/vaudeville/cartoon/demonic/maniacal/ carnival world which turns out to be a distant cousin to the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chöd where initiates wander through fearful haunted dark places and co-exist with all these odd monster spirits. A place I frequent in my head and in my music. Also, I had a big crush on the Cyclops who’s reappeared last year from the storage bin and hoping he’s OK since Sandy. I’m hoping Spook-A-Rama will pull thru after Sandy. I saw them drying the paper mache monsters. How are they?
ATZ: The Cyclops has miraculously survived but many of the other props were badly damaged by the flood. Some will be restored for use as static figures. The interior of the ride is currently being rebuilt with new props and is expected to open this spring.
Carol Lipnik and Spookarama at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, NYC, March 17 at 7pm (doors open at 6:30), $15 cover.
Related posts on ATZ…
January 9, 2013: Victrola Vault: In Summertime Down By the Sea (1904)
November 21, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Flooded Spook-A-Rama to Get New Stunts
January 8, 2011: Music Video: Strange Powers by the Magnetic Fields
November 27, 2010: Video: The Museum of Wax by Charles Ludlam